David Webb was an American jewelry designer, born in Ashville, North Carolina on July 2, 1925. He had an interest towards art from a very young age. This led him to study painting and sculpture at Cooper Union in New York City. In the 1940s, Webb began his career as a jewelry designer for his uncle's firm in New York City. In 1948, he established David Webb Inc., which immediately became known for its innovative designs and high-quality craftsmanship. He is known for his bold and imaginative designs, often featuring brightly colored gemstones and intricate metalwork.
Webb launched his flagship store on 57th Street in New York in 1960, and in his upstairs private salon, he made exquisite jewellery for his clientele. Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, Lana Turner, and others were among his celebrity clients. Gwen Stefanie and Jennifer Lopez have both been spotted wearing David Webb's jewellery in recent years.
Webb's designs were heavily influenced by his travels and his interest in ancient cultures. He was particularly inspired by the art and mythology of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as the animal kingdom. Many of his pieces feature animal motifs, such as elephants, lions, and snakes, rendered in vibrant colors and bold shapes.
Webb was also known for his innovative use of materials, such as wood, enamel, and rock crystal. He was particularly skilled at working with gold, often using a technique known as "chasing" to create intricate textures and patterns on the surface of the metal.
David Webb and the City of New York: Where Dreams Come True
David Webb moved from his hometown in North Carolina to New York City at the age of 16. It was Antoinette Quilleret, a French financier who recognized his talent and drafted him. It was during this time that he developed an interest in the art and culture of the Far East, which would later influence his jewelry designs.
After the war, Webb returned to New York City and began working for his uncle's jewelry company, where he learned the art of jewelry making. In 1948, he founded his own company, David Webb Inc. Webb expanded his 57th Street New York City business into a large enterprise employing 200 jewelers and 37 setters.
Webb's jewelry was worn by many notable personalities in the fields of fashion, art, and entertainment throughout the 1950s and 1960s, including Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Andy Warhol. His daring and innovative designs were especially popular among New York's Upper East Side socialites.
Webb was known for his larger-than-life personality and his love of entertaining. He was fixated on the New York social scene and regularly gave elaborate parties at his shop on Madison Avenue. He was also noted for his charity, having contributed to several philanthropic projects during his life.
The Zebra Bracelet
The Zebra Bracelet, via Sotheby's
One of Webb's most iconic designs, the Zebra Bracelet features black and white enamel stripes and diamond accents. It was worn by Elizabeth Taylor, who was a close friend and frequent customer of Webb’s. It displayed the designer's daring interpretation of classical animal jewelry. It was made in 18K gold and platinum and was studded with diamonds. It was popular among Webb's celebrity customers and fashion leaders in the 1960s.
The Frog Bracelet
The Frog Bracelet via David Webb
This whimsical necklace features a large green enamel frog perched on a branch, with diamond and ruby accents. Its attention to detail and the use of vibrant colors and materials make it a true masterpiece of jewelry design, and it remains a beloved piece among collectors and fans of David Webb's work. The Frog Bracelet was first introduced by David Webb in the 1960s and was famously worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The Maltese Cross Brooch
The Maltese Cross Brooch, via Sotheby's
This one of David Webb’s pieces was made as a part of a craze for costly, aristocratic heraldic jewels, whether medieval or baroque. It was favored by fashion icons ranging from Coco Chanel to Diana Vreeland. Webb's Maltese cross brooches were inspired by European orders of nobility and royalty in seemingly endless permutations. This large brooch features a gold Maltese cross with blue and green enamel accents and diamond and emerald details. It was worn by many celebrities, including Barbra Streisand.
The Sautoir, via Sothebys
The Sautoir was first introduced by David Webb in the 1960s and quickly became one of his signature designs. It was worn by many prominent figures, including Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and was featured in several high-profile photo shoots and advertisements. The necklace is designed in a series of repeating links, each of which is crafted from textured gold and set with a variety of gemstones, including diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. At the center of the necklace is a large tassel pendant, which is made up of dozens of gold chains hanging from a central cluster of gemstones.
Tragically, Webb died at the age of 50 in 1975, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. Despite his relatively short career, his influence on the world of jewelry design has been profound. His archive has over 40,000 drawings, which the firm employs to sustain the quality established by the renowned founder, David Webb.
Today, David Webb's jewelry is highly sought after by collectors and is considered to be some of the most iconic and influential American jewelry of the 20th century. His designs continue to inspire contemporary jewelry designers and are regularly featured in museum exhibitions around the world.